Managing insulin resistance is so much more than just eating the right foods. It takes a whole lifestyle shift!
Now don't get overwhelmed by all the things you feel like you have to do to finally feel great. Healing is a journey and often takes time. Make one shift at a time and take it day by day. You've got this!
1. Regular Movement
As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, regular movement is a great way to improve insulin sensitivity. When you have insulin resistance, cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don't respond well to insulin and can't easily take up glucose from your blood. Therefore, your body needs to make more insulin to get the blood-glucose lowering effects.
Therefore, the goal is to increase the cell's sensitivity to insulin. When you are insulin sensitive, you only need a small amount of insulin to keep blood glucose levels in normal range and keep cells supplied with glucose. A great way to improve insulin sensitivity is through regular (and the right kind of) physical activity.
You don't need to train for a marathon to be active (I'd actually discourage that)! Instead focus on staying active throughout the day. Something is better than nothing! If you sit at a desk all day, take a couple of breaks throughout the day for 15-minute walks. Or if you've been used to doing lots of high-intensity workouts, cut back and incorporate some walks or pilates into your week. Check out the best types of exercise for insulin resistance here.
2. Reduce Stress
This is a very important one! Many things in life can cause stress - not getting enough sleep (more on that later), working out too much, work, family, busy schedules, relationships, etc. While it's impossible to completely take stress out of our lives, trying to reduce it and learning to manage it, will go a long way in many respects.
When stressed, the body prepares itself by ensuring that enough sugar or energy is readily available. Stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline levels rise, and more glucose is released from the liver. If you have insulin resistance, your cells do not absorb glucose efficiently, so there will be even more unused glucose backed up in the body (increasing blood sugar).
It may seem impossible to lower stress, but do what you can. Focus on the things you can control. Maybe it's going to bed a bit earlier, taking a walk in nature (even 10 minutes), watching funny pet videos, or taking 3 deep belly breaths while you're in traffic. A little goes a long way!
Here are some of my favorite ways to reduce stress:
Light a candle (make sure it's scented with essential oils) or diffuse some essential oils
Laugh (watch a funny video, play a game, or do something playful)
Spend time with friends and family
Take a yoga class
Practice deep breathing
Listen to soothing music
Be creative - If art isn't your thing, bake something, buy a paint-by-number kit, play an instrument, or get a coloring book.
Play or cuddle with a pet - Don't have one? Take a friend's dog on a walk or visit a humane society.
3. Get More Sleep
Sounds basic, but again this habit is so very important to managing insulin resistance. Similar to stress, when your body doesn’t get the rest it needs, you release more cortisol which pumps more glucose into the body that the cells cannot properly absorb.
I know so many people struggle to get enough sleep, whether because they're too busy or they struggle to sleep well. If you feel like you don't have time to sleep at least 8 hours a night, it's time to adjust your schedule. I'd say it's more important to get a good night of sleep than wake up at 5am for a workout. Movement is important, but not if you're cortisol levels are already high due to lack of sleep.
If you struggle to get good quality sleep, there could be numerous reasons, but here are some things you can try right now to help:
Wear blue light blocking glasses at night. Blue light from our screens suppresses the body's release of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy. Blue light glasses help block the effects of light from our screens.
Drink some chamomile or sleepy time tea at night to help calm you down
Read a fun book in bed before you fall asleep (phones and screens away!)
Have a bedtime routine that calms you down and prepares you for bed
Get sunlight right away in the morning (this helps set your circadian rhythm)
Diffuse some lavender essential oil in your bedroom
4. Reduce Toxic Load
Toxic load is the accumulation of toxins and chemicals in our bodies. These can come from a variety of sources, including the environment, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the personal care and household products we use. And these toxins do interfere with glucose and cholesterol metabolism and induce insulin resistance. They also alter thyroid metabolism and promote inflammation.
The first step to addressing toxic load is being aware of where those unhelpful chemicals and toxins lie. We can't totally control the air we breathe, but we can control what we put on our bodies, what we use in our homes, and other products we use on a regular basis.
Here's how to reduce toxic exposure:
Replace plastic food containers with glass. BPA is a common toxin in plastic and studies have shown a link to BPA and diabetes. There are a lot of glass food containers out there! I personally love mason jars (which are super cheap).
Avoid "fragrance" in personal care products and home products. Look at the ingredient list on products, and if you see "fragrance" put it away! Fragrance is a loophole ingredients, meaning companies are not required to list everything that goes into that "ingredient." Fragrance can be made of hundreds of ingredients, oftentimes including hormone disrupting chemicals. Fragrance is super sneaky and can be found in candles, air freshners, makeup, skincare, and cleaning products.
Use makeup and personal care products made without harmful ingredients. This takes looking at ingredient labels and knowing what to look for. My favorite resources are the Environmental Working Group's skin deep database (stick with products scored 3 or lower) and Beautycounter's Never List. My friend Katherine has a wonderful free guide all about making the switch to clean beauty as well!
Use clean cleaning products! My favorite brands are Branch Basics and Seventh Generation.
When it comes to reducing toxic load, start small. You don't need to change everything at once.
There you have it! Four ways to manage insulin resistance that have nothing to do with diet. I hope these are helpful. Send me a DM on Instagram if you have questions or if you've implemented any of these ideas. I'd love to hear from you!
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